Crozier surveys a bare cupboard

Steve Tongue says the FA's options are now seriously limited
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Howard Wilkinson will step in as the caretaker manager of the England team for a second time this morning, bridging the gap spanning yesterday's game and Wednesday's in Finland, while the Football Association begin the search for Kevin Keegan's successor.

Howard Wilkinson will step in as the caretaker manager of the England team for a second time this morning, bridging the gap spanning yesterday's game and Wednesday's in Finland, while the Football Association begin the search for Kevin Keegan's successor.

Wilkinson, the FA's Technical Director, had overseen the 2-0 home defeat by France in February 1999 in between Glenn Hoddle's resignation and Keegan's triumphant first game at home to Poland the following month. Little more than a year and a half later, the whole tortuous recruiting process must begin again.

This time, being English by birth will be less of a consider-ation than ever before. Two of the most popular English candidates, bookmakers William Hill's early favourite Terry Venables (Corals installed Peter Reid as theirs), and Leicester City's Peter Taylor, have worked out of Lancaster Gate in the past, but left in acrimonious circumstances.

Venables resigned when he was refused an extension of his contract in advance of Euro 96, insisting "I don't do auditions". The loss to football has looked increasingly heavy ever since.

Taylor, much less experienced, successfully managed the England Under-21s before becoming a victim of the restructuring that brought about the rise of Wilkinson, who took development of all England's age groups under his wing.

After winning promotion to the First Division for Gillingham, Taylor moved to Leicester City and further improved his reputation in taking them to the top of the Premiership. Re-employing him would need even more pride to be swallowed than in Venables' case.

Wilkinson's declared aim has been to put in place a structure that enables future England managers to be groomed by the FA and then promoted from within. To that end Peter Beardsley has been recruited as an England coach working with the senior squad, but has had little time to establish his credentials.

Contemparies of his, like Sunderland's Reid and Middlesbrough's Bryan Robson, have begun to acquire greater managerial experience but have in the past expressed little interest in moving up. The fact that Keegan has lasted an even shorter time than Hoddle (just over two years), Venables (the same period) and Graham Taylor (three years) will hardly encourage them now. Last night the FA confirmed that the search would be broader than before. "The only important thing is to get the best possible person for the job," said the chief executive, Adam Crozier. "I don't think you can set out to 'go English' or 'go foreign'."

To attract the most successful manager would mean going Scottish, for Sir Alex Ferguson, which would seem an unlikely outcome, or going French for Arsenal's Arsÿne Wenger, who has been tipped as a future manager of Japan, while indicating that he would not find the England job to his taste. His countryman, Anglo-phile Gérard Houllier, would be a stronger candidate if he had managed to effect a greater upturn in Liverpool's fortunes since moving to Anfield.

In the meantime, Crozier tried to stress that there would be as much continuity as possible by having the existing coaches and support staff, like Beardsley, Ray Clemence and Les Reed (Wilkinson's deputy) working with the team in Finland. "The most important thing is that we stay calm," he said. "All of Kevin's back-up team will report on Sunday as planned and we'll get Howard in and then start looking for a new coach on Thursday. We have to get through Wednesday night and we have to get a result, because we want to qualify for the finals in 2002. That's the first stage, and stage two starts on Thursday."

Crozier denied that it would have been a sensible step for Keegan to leave after Euro 2000, as several other more successful coaches did. "With the benefit of hindsight, that's something that could be asked, but I think Kevin at that stage still felt he had more to offer in himself. And anyone who spoke to him after that felt the same.

"We always felt it would take time to move from club management to international management, just as it does as a player. We felt he would get it right and he wanted to get it right, but he now feels he's seen enough to know that it can't."

The best carrot Crozier was able to dangle in front of those considering sending him their CV this week was: "I think we have a very good squad of players and a terrific set of kids coming through. It's a particularly exciting time to be England manager and there's a huge opportunity there."

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